A Letter from a Mother to Her Son ~ A Composer’s Perspective

FBSO will be premiering John Grimmett and Jason Carlson’s A Letter from a Mother to Her Son at our “Texas, Our Texas” concert this February. John took some time to write about his experiences in crafting a musical work for FBSO that is both a poignant picture of a relationship and a rallying cry for love and acceptance.

Composer John Grimmett

My mother spent six years of her career working for the Texas prison system. In hindsight, she says it was, perhaps, the most informative six years of her life, an experience that forced her to clarify her values. She speaks often of a fourteen-year-old youthful offender serving a life sentence for a heinous violent crime. This young man says to her one day: “Mrs. Grimmett, if you had been my mother, I would have never gone to prison.” The young man’s words, of course, broke my mother’s heart. Unsure of how to respond, my mother told me that she had to reflect on her answer very carefully because words have staying power. The next day, she told the young man: “I’m not trying to justify what your mother did or did not do to or for you in your childhood, but I’ve yet to meet any mother who holds her newborn child in her arms and says, ‘I hope this child will grow up one day to carry out a life sentence.’ So what can you do? Take the worst thing you’ve ever done in your life and turn it into something positive. Your future is up to you now.”
In A Letter from a Mother to Her Son, my collaborator Jason Carlson has given me a text where words having staying power. Dismayed over a recent statistic that 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ (and the leading cause of their homelessness is “familial rejection”), Jason and I sought to write a piece about hope, tolerance, and acceptance, three aspects of the human condition needed desperately in today’s trying times. Jason’s text is sparse but emotionally charged, and his text inspires my musical imagination to take flight. I can’t speak yet as to what I think the piece means for anyone else besides myself (I will have a better idea about that after the work is premiered), but I hope A Letter from a Mother to Her Son unites many different experiences and perspectives. Relationships are hard work: any mother, father, sister, brother, in-law, or second husband can tell you that. I’m hoping the music — which will be sung beautifully by soprano Britany Lovett under the direction of the brilliant Dominique Royem — will inspire each one of its listeners to think about how much love they put forth in their relationships.

As a theatre composer and playwright, I’m often asked why I am drawn to subject matter that deals with loss, unspoken social norms, and abandonment. Truthfully, I don’t know. I’m grateful to have never experienced those things firsthand, though a little observation and imagination can substitute for experience. Nevertheless, I’ve always believed myself to be an optimist, so the act of creating new work with a first-rate writer like Jason Carlson is a step towards the way I wish the world to be. I believe that the world can be made a better place if we could learn to unconditionally love each other, the way mothers unconditionally love their children at the start of it all. In the words of my mother, the future is up to us now. In the words of Jason Carlson, “be good… be happy.” Perhaps, possibly, it is just that simple. – JG